Monday, September 13, 2010

On Education: Do We Need a Hero?

During one of the last hot days of August, I found myself in Brooklyn, where I finally had the opportunity to visit the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co.- which I’ve been hoping to do ever since I saw this Dave Eggers TED talk on the idea (entitled “Once Upon a School.”)*

In case you haven't heard of the center, Dave Eggers was inspired to open the center when he lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He had grown up surrounded by educators, and now, as he worked the unpredictable and irregular hours of a writer, he was aware of many others in Park Slope working similar schedules. Recognizing the need for one-on-one attention that teachers simply couldn't provide in their overpacked classrooms, he wished to create a center that would bring together writers- with their flexible schedules, their passion for creativity, and their wish to contribute to the community, and students- who otherwise might not get any one-on-one time with an educator.

But his idea didn't stop there. He moved to San Francisco, where he rented a space that would serve as both a tutoring center and a place that both adults and children would be attracted to, at least to stop by and visit. They also had to contend with the fact that the space was zoned for retail- so as a solution, they turned the front half of the space into a Pirate Supply Store, with a tutoring area in the back. The Superhero Supply Co. in Brooklyn followed suit, as did the Echo Park Time Travel Mart in LA, and Fighting Words in Dublin, Ireland, among others -and the energy behind all these centers comes from the idea that one-on-one attention makes all the difference.

Not only is it a fun space to visit (try not enjoying the Capery, the containers of "salted bravery," and the series of clocks along the wall telling the time in the five boroughs) but I have been thinking a lot about this project since my visit, and I think it is a really exciting development, and a positive way to respond to the extremely complicated and difficult matter of contending with our contemporary education system.

By getting professionals and students excited about what can happen when a student is given just a little extra attention, the Once Upon a School Project is helping get the communities they work with invested in the public education system, which is empowering, fun, and, it seems, pretty effective.

And sure enough, I soon encountered another link between education and heroism, when I saw this preview and then read this review of the upcoming documentary, Waiting for Superman. The film comes out on September 24, and they are using the website as a forum to pledge to see the film, with different companies promising to make donations to public education based on the number of pledges they receive.

I am hoping to learn more about the public education system, so this film looks like something I am interested in seeing, as well as consulting the future educators among my friends, including one over in Urban Studies whose thesis this year will be about charter schools. It is hard for me to tell whether the film will be explicitly pro-charter or take a stance on teacher's unions. I hope it stays true to what Thomas Friedman's New York Times Review calls its core thesis: "for too long, our public education system was built to serve adults, not kids," but that it also recognizes the need for teachers' needs to be met to keep as many good teachers as possible in the classroom.

The makers of the film have localized sites for particular cities (ie. New York's, found here) that, like "Once Upon a School," seek to make people both aware and active in public education in their home city. I am looking forward to seeing the film, and think it will provide a bit of background to my growing interest in the public education system. While it is probably purely coincidental that these two recent observations involve heroism, it doesn't seem entirely unreasonable to say that heroes might be what we need to fix the education crisis.

*If you are unfamiliar with the TED (Technology/Entertainment/Design) series, check out their archive here. Their conferences "bring together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes.)"


Rebecca Gehman said...

This is such a cool center! I like the quote you referenced "for too long, our public education system was built to serve adults, not kids."

My mother has worked in the public school system for quite some time and from her stories I can attest that this is true.

There is a complete disconnect between the school, the home and young students themselves.

Hopefully places like this bridge that gap.

Rebecca Gehman said...

Plus, this only validates my believes that Dave Eggers is AWESOME.

It's great how the writers of our generation are active social pioneers as well.

Professor Glenn Hendler said...

Hmmm....can you really claim Dave Eggers as a writer of your generation when he was born in 1970? He's closer to my generation.....


Find a classmate said...

I think that this is true.

Rebecca Gehman said...

Good point, well he is certainly an author acclaimed by young hipsters everywhere.

Professor Glenn Hendler said...

I just saw this article, and it made me think back to this post, Kaylyn. I'd love to hear your (and others') responses to it: